or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


A few years ago I said I'd never found a typo in Harper's Magazine. I looked at it as some sort of holy beacon of incorruptible copy-editing.

I never got around to reading most of the July issue, for one reason or another: I did the cryptic crossword, which is always the first thing I turn to, but then the magazine fell by the wayside, because there are always so many things to read. So when Boingboing blogged about an article that was online, I clicked the link and read it in that format. I could have dug out the magazine, or read it on the Harper's website, but I was already there, so I took the path of least resistance.

It seems kind of ridiculous to say how profoundly sad I was to see these sentences:

That there's a big fat typo; "ot" instead of "at". I couldn't understand how it could have happened, because Harper's doesn't let that kind of thing slip through.

Then I thought, "Well, is that what actually got published?" So I did dig out my copy of the July issue, and skimmed the article very quickly, and I couldn't find the typo. I was confident that I could, because (as I have said before, and I apologize for boring you), typos stand out for me as if they'd been overlaid with yellow highlighter, but it just didn't seem to be there. I went to their website and opened up the page in question, and what do you know? The typo wasn't there!

And now that I knew where the putative mistake was, I went to that section of the printed article, and it wasn't there, either.

And finally it dawned on me that what the author had posted to that L.A. Weekly website wasn't the actual article, it was the galley proofs, which can easily contain typos and other errors, because they're used by copy-editors to proof-read and make corrections to before the final publication.

My sense of relief was ludicrously outsized and wonderful to behold.


This also appeared in the galley proofs

and it was not corrected for publication. "He has long hair, a pharaonic beard, and makes his living..." is not a huge mistake, but it's still a mistake, because it violates parallel structure, which dictates that every clause has to have its own verb, whether explicit or implicit, and if you want to change verbs in midstream, you have to account for that. You can say, "He has long hair and a pharaonic beard, and makes his living...", because the first "and" applies the verb to both noun phrases and permits you to keep going with a new verb. You can say, "He has long hair, a pharaonic beard, and a gentle demeanour. He makes his living...", because the period stops the first verb altogether and lets you introduce a second in the new sentence. You can do any number of things. The one thing you can't do is what Harper's did.

At least I can say I've still never found a Harper's typo.


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